The University of Connecticut Dining Services spends a majority of its $74.5 million budget on personal expenses and fringe benefits for employees.
“You have to look at the (enormity) of how big we are. We are probably one of the largest self-operating dining services in the United States,” Dennis Pierce, Director of Dining Services, said.
Dining Services employs over 1,200 students and 450 full-time employees.
Not including the Student Union, UC Cafes or catering services, residential dining halls alone operate over 900 hours a week.
“When you have that many service hours, you have high labor costs, so therefore that’s what drives that, if we were to have shorter hours then naturally our labor costs would come down, or if we had fewer units open and subsequently, more than likely, the cost of the meal plan would come down because that’s what’s driving the cost, it’s not just the food that’s being served,” Pierce said.
Every three years, Dining Services negotiates contracts with its unionized employees, which usually leads to a raise in wages.
“It all amounts to money you weren’t spending last year,” Pierce said.
Revenue for Dining Services’ budget is generated solely through the sale of meal plans, retail operations and catering.
“Dining Services is self-supporting, from the sale of meal plans and retail and catering transactions,” Pierce said. “Any piece of equipment that needs to be repaired (or) replaced, everything comes from Dining Services, the University provides no support.”
Last spring, the Board of Trustees approved a 3 percent increase to student board fees, which directly provide revenue for Dining Services.
Pierce said that increases in the cost of commodities is what drives costs for Dining Services up each year.
“The rise of commodities is significant every year and it’s impacted by contracts, shortages, the weather, all of those things drive increases. There’s no one thing that says ‘why do we increase the meal plan 3 percent?’ It’s a whole litany of items,” Pierce said.
Pierce said the incorporation of new food items into menus does not impact the cost of the meal plan.
“The structure that you do when you create recipes, you’re still working with the same formulas,” Pierce said. “Expenses don’t increase because you’re adding new stuff on, they increase because of the costs of goods.”
Pierce said, in almost every year he has been working for Dining Services, a 3 percent increase has been the norm, with the notable exception of a few years ago when they did not increase at all to compensate for an unusually high increase to housing costs.
There is an approximately $1.5 million decrease in revenue projected for the spring semester.
This difference stems from students finishing their degrees in January, studying abroad or transferring out of UConn, Pierce said.
Pierce said he expects the 3 percent increase to remain standard for the foreseeable future.
“Unless something significant happens and it has to be increased higher than that, or lower than that, in my lifetime here, that (3 percent) has pretty much been the standard because when you look at the expense of commodities, prices never go down,” Pierce said.
Pierce said Dining Services is looking to use the sale of community meal plans to generate additional revenue.
Community meal plans are a block of twenty-five meals one can purchase at a set price and will roll over each semester if they are not used. If there are meals left over once the student is graduating, they will be paid out in monetary form.
“It’s a convenient factor with this movement of people living (in apartments) there are times when (they say) ‘I don’t want to cook I just want to walk into a dining unit,’” Pierce said. “I don’t think we have put a lot of effort into making people aware of it and attracting students specifically who are living in apartments.”
Anna Zarra Aldrich is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. She tweets @ZarraAnna.